If some type of Hip Hop Karma exists, you have to think LL Cool J is going to catch a bad one for the way he treated Canibus on “4,3,2,1.” Is there any type of precedent for inviting someone to rhyme on a song, misinterpreting their flattery as a diss and then convincing them to record another verse only to air them out on the same song?
Such was the case with 1997’s “4,3,2,1.” Mr. Smith opted to go for another posse cut. And it’s hard to argue with the strategy considering the results from 1995‘s “I Shot Ya.” LL and his Def Jam labelmates DMX, Redman and Method Man were joined by a token appearance from Master P and newcomer Canibus. Despite ripping every guest appearance he had been on prior to that point, ‘Bis said he approached “4,3,2,1” humble.
“LL was like a father figure in Rap music,” Canibus said, when speaking on the now-infamous battle for QD3’s “Beef” series. “I was just somebody who was coming in the game. I had done other records prior to ‘4,3,2,1.’ But I was coming into the game looking for someone to be under their wing, rock with them and tear the whole game down from the inside out.”
By now everyone knows the story of how LL Cool J threatened to drop ‘Bis from the track unless Canibus removed his line about borrowing the microphone tattooed on LL’s arm. Everyone else seemed to understand the line wasn’t a diss, but Canibus changed his verse anyway. By then, LL had already recorded a vicious response to Canibus’ original rhyme. And while he kept Canibus on the track, he essentially dissed his up-and-coming guest on the same song. Later, LL would rationalize the move by saying no one would have known whom the bars were directed at if Canibus kept the matter quiet.
That obviously didn’t happen, and in addition to some dope, themed visuals from director Diane Martel, listeners not only got the initial “4,3,2,1” battle but also the added bonus of “2nd Round K.O.” LL’s “The Ripper Is Back” and even Wyclef’s “What’s ‘Clef Got To Do With It.”
The song “4,3,2,1” spawned one of the first heated battles after the deaths of Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac temporarily made a lot of people too scared to battle at all. Of course, the irony is that B.I.G. and ‘Pac’s deaths sparked dozens of collaborations from coast to coast—likely including “4,3,2,1.” It’s hard to believe one compliment could set off so much.
“He couldn’t see what was in my heart,” Canibus later added. “If anything, he should have took that as flattery.”